An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

by William Butler Yeats

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What is the significance of the title of "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death"?  

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The title that Yeats gives to this dramatic monologue becomes important when we examine what the Irish pilot himself says about his forthcoming death and in particular his feelings about the war that he is about to participate in. To the speaker, the war that he is participating in seems to be profoundly futile. Note what he says about it and the cause that supposedly lies at the root of the battle, which is to emancipate the Irish people, who are referred to as "them" in the following quote:

No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.

For the speaker, he is pitted against people that he does "not hate," and he is fighting for people he does "not love." All ideological concerns are irrelevant to the battle that he feels is just about to claim his life. For the speaker, death for him is preferable to the futility not just of war, but of life as he sees it:

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

As war will have no impact on his own future or on the future of the cause that he is fighting for, he recognises that his own death is something that might occur whilst he is indulging his passion for adventure and his "lonely impulse of delight." The title's significance lies in the way that the airman is able to cut through so much of the meaningless rhetoric that surrounds war and patriotism, and recognises that his life, like the lives of so many others, will be lost for a cause that is completely meaningless.

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